12 January

Going Inward. What Is Required Of A Man Like Me At A Time Like This?

by Jon Katz

I woke up at 4 a.m. this morning, and I lay awake for another three hours, watching and waiting for some of the dark emotions and memories to come bubbling, like some fog in the moonlight.

They used to terrify me, but as I got older, I realized they were mostly just talk and posturing, they didn’t really have any power, apart from the night.

They know how to get my attention, but they never really seemed to hurt me.

Maria, half-asleep mumbled something when I sat up suddenly; I knew she was asking me if I was all right. Maria and I take turns dealing with bad dreams and demons in the dark ashes of the night.

I said, “thanks, I’m fine,” and she fell back asleep, as I knew she would. She is a heavy sleeper, and I didn’t really answer the question long enough to wake her.

I don’t usually want to speak to anybody at times like that, not even her.

I’ve spent a good portion of my life staring up at the ceiling in the darkness. I’ve always done it alone.

I remembered Rumi’s “Guest House,” I like how he dealt with the darkness. He thought of being human as a guest house; all visitors should be welcomed and entertained.

“This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.”

I’ve had a meanness or two visit me in the night all of my life, and for many years I tried to fight them off, deny them, trick them into leaving, sing a song, read a book – anything.

But I learned to go inside when that happens, not out. Everything that comes into my head is welcome.

I welcome the dark visitors. Come on in, I say, I’ll sing and dance for you, offer you some wine, stay as long as you like.

But I know, and they know that the shadows melt away with the first light, and like the vampires, they have to stay in the darkness to survive. The light kills them off.

I find them to be harmless, a space to cross. I don’t deny them any longer; I embrace them; they are a part of me, just like my nose and eyes. Over the long haul, do they really matter?

Peace comes not from denial but by embracing shadow and light interaction. A warm bed with a wonderful person in it doesn’t hurt, neither does an egg sandwich and turkey bacon, with fresh eggs from the roost and some tea, a perk of living in the country.

I remember Thoreau writing in his journal that he found greater peace when he was not trying to be contemplative or deep, but by simply accepting what came to him as something that “seems to be required of a man like me at a time like this.”

What a nice way to put it.

I love that last line.

When the dark emotions bubble up, I remind myself to accept them, just as I accept joy and happiness. They seem to be required of a man like me at a time like this.


  1. Of the many things I find we have in common, this is not one of them. For whatever reason I have never been been plagued by visitors in the night. I do wish you peace. It is not as if I never have visited a dark place or been tormented by perceived injustices, I have, they just don’t come at night nor do they disturb my sleep. My relief comes when I can find solitude. The farm is my refuge. Day and night I find comfort there. A walk by the gurgling creek, frogs and peepers sing their songs, stillness so deep you can hear a cow tear a mouthful of grass from the ground and add it to their cud. Life moves along and I am reminded of the insignificance of my problems in the context of this world. It is a gift I believe to have the ability to welcome ones demons in, face them, hear their tales and then show them the door. Accept that which you cannot change. Don’t dwell on it either, recognize it, be aware of it, know it for what it is.
    When I was young, many were the nights that I feel asleep to the same dream. A farm. A wife. A couple of kids. Cows and horses. Dogs and cats. Maybe a few other critters. A year round creek so I would never need to break ice for the stock to have water. Fruit trees and shade trees. Pasture that was easy to mow and maintain, sufficient to graze the stock even in the bad years. Ponds stocked with fish. Woods with squirrel, fence rows with rabbits and quail. A farm house right in the middle of it that sat at the end of a gravel road that only the lost or someone coming to visit would venture down. How lucky is the man that gets to live his dream?
    Age and experience has a way of letting us know which of our demons we must vanquish and which we can just forgive and just let go. Peace is worth more than gold. In times like these, we do the best we can until we can do better. My poem of comfort is by Max Ehrmann, I won’t quote it all but here but I will quote the last lines. “And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you perceive Him to be. And whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul. With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.

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